I’ve seen Inception three times now, and each viewing has been better than the one before it. This is after a first viewing that, mere hours later, led me to post this. It’s an astonishing achievement in cinematic craft, presenting any number of things—the city folding over on itself, the zero-gravity hallway fight—that give moviegoers the now-rare feeling, “I haven’t seen that before.”
This in spite of the fact that Inception is more a synthesis of influences than a work of “true” originality. There are faint, indirect Philip K. Dick “what is real?” undertones, by way of movies like Blade Runner and Total Recall. As in the work of the late Stanley Kubrick, intellect comes before emotion. These are not criticisms, this is just the kind of movie this is, and the emotional detachment is part of what I personally find exhilarating about Inception. It’s a movie about smart people who figure things out and then act, and whose repressed emotions lead to locomotives roaring through city streets and destroying things, because that’s what emotional repression does.
The last movie(s) I remember provoking conversations as long and involved as the ones I’ve had about Inception were the Matrix sequels. It says something about a movie that even the people who don’t like it think about why they don’t like it. For instance, I have a friend who found the female characters in Inception to be regressive stereotypes, and we’ve had numerous lengthy chats about this—I agree to the extent that I think Inception becomes even more interesting if you swap Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page’s parts, making her Leo DiCaprio’s right hand and him the naïve young design prodigy—but again, if the movie didn’t have at least something to it, the entire conversation would have been “Inception sucks.” Because it doesn’t. Quite the contrary.
I would go as far as to call Inception my favorite summer blockbuster of all time. The only competition is Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which I like for wholly separate reasons. Where the latter presses on the brain’s pleasure center like an accelerator pedal with tools like then-unprecedented CGI, explosions and car chases, Inception achieves the same effect, with a lot of the same tools, but indirectly by targeting the intellect. Like the endless twists in director Christopher Nolan’s 2006 picture The Prestige, Inception is just complex enough that it flatters the audience by implying, “You’re smart if you can figure this out,” but is deceptively straight-forward. As a summer blockbuster, after all, it can’t make things too hard on the audience. And in an entertainment landscape where intelligence is a rare commodity, the slightest semblance thereof is a welcome thing.
Here’s to Inception. May it be the first of many summer movies of the mind, rather than the last. And may it be praised forever for making it impossible to get Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” out of your head for days on end, for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s and Tom Hardy’s tailoring, for Ken Watanabe’s “I decided to buy the airline, it seemed simpler,” for the chase scene in Mombassa, and for the fact that from here forward, we can score our day-to-day lives with this.